Obama 2.0

During the past week we have witnessed a Big Bang of analysis of the meaning of the recent Massachusetts senatorial election, what it means for the Obama presidency and what it means for America. We can probably throw in the meaning of this one election to determining the future of civilization as we know it.
We can begin with what we know. We know that with the election of Scott Brown as United Senator from Massachusetts, the Democrats no longer have a 60-40 “filibuster proof” super majority in the Senate. We know that Senator-elect Brown’s campaign platform of almost total opposition to the Obama legislative agenda. We know of the propensity of the Republican minority in the Senate to vote in obstructionist lock step when it comes to any and every aspect of the Obama agenda. We know that the leadership of the Republican Party is on record as wanting Barack Obama to fail as President of the United States no matter what damage is wreaked on the American public in the process (taking the concept of a pyrrhic victory to a new and unconscionable level).
Knowing that Barack Obama’s failure as President will lead to more suffering on the part of American men, women and children, the disloyal opposition persists in clamoring for his failure. Knowing that more jobs will be lost, more homes will be foreclosed upon and more children will be stripped of their one irreplaceable possession – hope, the disloyal opposition conspires and connives to bring about that failure.
We know that Barack Obama was elected on a tide of hope and expectation and energy and desire for progressive change rarely seen in American politics. We know that President Obama has endeavored to keep to his promise of a bipartisan governing process. We know that the hand that he has proffered to the Republicans has been gnawed to the bone.
We know that despite the tide of hope and expectation and energy and desire for progressive change that elevated him to the presidency, President Obama has rarely tapped into this considerable resource. We know that his efforts at being reasonable have been perceived by too many as weakness. We know that his willingness to be thoughtful and contemplative have been perceived by too many as an unwillingness to act decisively. We know that the seemingly unstoppable momentum that accompanied his inauguration has been stopped.
This is not, however, the end of the dream. It is not even the beginning of the end. It would be naïve to think that the forces and interests that exist in opposition to the goals and objectives and principles enunciated by candidate Barack Obama would lay down their weapons and embrace the change sought by President Obama. But it is clear to all who care, and it is certainly clear to the President that the opposition is real, it is implacable but it is not invincible. It is time to reboot. It is time for Obama 2.0.
There is no need for the President to become a different person, but he must exhibit the resolve and determination to succeed that helped him graduate from Harvard Law School that helped him dare to become President of the United States that enabled him to become President of the United States. He has to let America know that he is the leader that they elected. If this means calling out Lloyd Blankfein, the Chairman of Goldman Sachs, for exhibiting the unspeakable bad taste of bestowing overblown and unearned bonuses to his minions while many Americans scrounge for any job and are losing their homes, then call him out.
If it means calling out Senator Jim Demint, whose jackass philosophical opposition to the Administration’s nominee for the head of the Transportation Security Administration kept TSA from having new leadership at a time of clear and present danger (see the barely aborted Christmas bombing), then call him out. If it means telling the leadership of the Democratic Party in Congress that he is the leader of that party and that their dithering and game playing and role playing has now endangered the passage of a health care bill that would have positively transformed the lives of millions of American men, women and children, then he should do so.
Most importantly, as he prepares his State of the Union address, I do believe that President Obama should decide that Obama 2.0 means that he and his administration should be in battle mode from now until November 2, 2010. He must lead the battle to transform the Congress. He cannot achieve his agenda and what he believes is best for the American people with a House and Senate that is composed of majorities that will support and endorse and enact that agenda.
Offering the bipartisan hand has been a failure and a lesson. It is now time to go into a battle for the hearts and minds and votes of the American people. I believe that history will show that getting elected was the easy part for Barack Obama. The harder part will be the transformation of Congress and America. In this battle he will have the support of millions of Americans who seek the change that he has called for.

Point of View Columns

Haiti….Today and Tomorrow

The most compelling subject of the current moment is the tragic earthquake in Haiti and its sorrowful aftermath. As I search for the right words full disclosure is in order. Through my management consulting practice I have been active in Haiti for the past decade. I have been on the board of directors of Haitel, one of the leading Haitian cell phone companies and my firm has provided security sector advisory services to the central government. More recently we have worked with Simact, a Haitian-American owned company that owns one hotel in Jacmel and is now developing a state of the art hotel-condominium complex, also in Jacmel.

          I am writing with knowledge but with no pretense at being an expert when it comes to Haiti. I have stayed at the hotels that are now collapsed mausoleums, housing the remains of unfortunate guests and visitors all of whose names we may never know. I have walked on the streets that are now choked with refugees and corpses and the stench of death that may never completely dissipate. I have laughed, worked and dined with Haitians who have lost their homes, their life possessions, their family heirlooms and their parents and children.

          There is a funereal aspect about this disaster. It is almost as if we are not only witness to the death of countless thousands. It is as if we are witness to the slow and inevitable death of an entire country. But while this tragedy is all too real, while the sorrow is all too profound, while clouds of despair darken any perspective on the foreseeable future – amazingly, incredibly and wonderfully, there is the glint of the glimmer of a ray of hope.

          The history of human civilization contains a virtually endless catalogue of cities and countries that have been razed by nature or the human hand. And that includes the revival and renaissance of so many of those same destroyed cities and countries.

          In recent memory we only have to look at the fact that during the nineteenth century three major cities virtually burned to the ground, resulting in the loss of tens of thousands of lives. In all three instances, the immediate view was that London, New York City and Chicago would never rise again. Their epitaphs were already typeset.

          The Great Fire of London in 1848 turned out to be a transformative turning point for that city. The fire demolished a dilapidated and ancient infrastructure that was replaced with an urban environment that formed the basis for the modern London that we know.

          The Great Fire of New York City in 1835 cleared away the detritus of centuries of unplanned development. The disaster occasioned by the destructive force of the fire cleared the way for the planned development of Manhattan and the origins of the grid development of the island has served as a model for urban planners for almost two hundred years.

          The Great Fire of Chicago in 1871 killed hundreds instead of thousands, but it still wreaked incredible havoc upon what was then one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. The fire did not only provide an opportunity for modern, planned redevelopment. The fire also provided an opportunity for the leadership of Chicago to demonstrate to the world that, in overcoming tragedy and triumphing over disaster, Chicago was now ready to take its place as not just a large city, but as a great city.

          The analogy is applicable; the destruction in Haiti appears to be of biblical proportions. But the Bible also speaks of miracles and transformations and if there was ever a time and place for miracles, it is right now, in Haiti.

          The awful calamity in Haiti provides an opportunity to install a modern, twenty first century infrastructure to replace the barely serviceable one that existed until January 12th. All of the creativity related to low cost housing, energy efficient transportation, alternative energy resources and modern urban planning can be brought to Haiti without concern for displacement and disruption. The earthquake has already done that.

          The disaster has created the world’s largest living laboratory for devising the very best practices for insuring quality education, clean water supplies and ecologically friendly industrial development. The oft-criticized leadership of Haiti has a God-given chance to seize this miraculous and transformative time.

          Even while the dead are being mourned and the tears are being shed, the leadership of Haiti must insist, must demand, that this time past will not be prologue. The current aid that is being shipped to Haiti must, of necessity, address the survival of the people. The aid that the people of Haiti need for the future must reflect the creativity and innovation that already exists so that by the dawn of the next decade Haiti will have truly experienced the renaissance that Haitians deserve.

          To build shacks and shanty towns on the wreckage of shacks and shanty towns would be a sin. To patch up the ramshackle infrastructure would be unconscionable. To look at the status quo ante as a goal would be criminally foolish.

          There are universities and foundations and organizations throughout the world that can go to Haiti to demonstrate the viability of the new age approaches to development that have worked only on a limited scale to date. The newly formed Clinton Bush Fund, intended to raise funds for the recovery of Haiti must, after providing monies for survival aid and assistance, insist that the funding for redevelopment take place within the context of transformative change. Haiti can be the grand stage that will conclusively prove to the rest of the world that the time has truly come for these new age approaches to development.

          To do otherwise would dishonor the dead. To do otherwise would demonstrate total disregard for the awful suffering endured by the living. To do otherwise would be to ignore the opportunity that has accompanied this awful disaster. To do any less would be to do nothing at all.

          Wallace Ford is the Principal of Fordworks Associates, a New York-based management consulting firm and is the author of two novels, The Pride and What You Sow.


Poor Rudy’s Almanac

Last week, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was quoted as saying that there had not been any domestic terrorist attacks on the United States during the eight year administration of President George W. Bush. Those of us who lived through eight years of Giuliani looking through his own personal looking glass of reality couldn’t have been shocked, but his refusal to accept reality in this instance may have topped his own world record for denial.
It is almost cruel to dissect the errors in Giuliani’s alleged statement of fact, but his statement warrants consideration and analysis and response. After all, Rudy Giuliani revived his failed and flaccid political career by marching around the ashes of the World Trade Center, proclaiming himself some kind of Horatio at the gate, after the gate had been blown apart. He has made millions of dollars proclaiming himself as some grand genius of crime prevention and has endlessly self-promoted himself in this fashion.
This, despite the fact that when he was elected mayor in 1993 he inherited a declining crime rate in New York City, a decline that predated his election by over a year. This, despite the fact that his first Police Commissioner, William Bratton, is widely acknowledged as being the brains and inspiration behind the continued decline in crime and the improvements in policing. This, despite the fact that several of his direct appointments were indicted, convicted and sentenced to prison, including the first Police Commissioner in New York City to have this particular distinction – Bernard Kerik. The same Bernard Kerik that Rudy Giuliani recommended to be the first Secretary of Homeland Security – a bizarre irony that cannot be ignored. This, despite the fact that many of the families that lost loved ones at the World Trade Center, particular the families of fire and police officers, travel around the country to protest his presence because of his shameful lack of attention to safety provisions that could have saved lives on that fateful day.
And so, in this most recent foray into Giuliani Land, we hear our erstwhile hero denounce President Obama for a domestic terrorist attack on “his watch” referring to the Fort Hood shootings. Interesting, because there has been no fact-based assertion that the shooting was terrorist-inspired. But, in Giuliani Land, the fact that the alleged shooter is of Arab background and is a Muslim is enough to earn the Rudolph Giuliani Seal of Terrorism.
And, in Giuliani Land, there were no domestic terrorist attacks in the United States during the administration of President George Bush because, presumably, the 9/11 attacks never happened. Presumably the Richard Reid shoe bomber incident didn’t happen either. And, of course, the anthrax scare which still keeps mail from being delivered directly to the U.S. Congress never happened either. The multiple shootings at U.S. military bases since the beginning of the Iraqi/Afghanistan wars either never happened, or in Giuliani Land, didn’t constitute terrorist attacks.
There is nothing laughable about these lies and falsifications and misrepresentations. But too many people still take the former mayor seriously on matters of security. He was able to hoodwink and bamboozle the Brazilian Olympic Committee into hiring him to provide security advice for the 2016 Olympics and one can only hope that, as Giuliani begins to samba around the truth when he goes to Rio de Janeiro that the Olympic torch doesn’t go missing.


Wake Up Call

The near tragic bomb attempt on Christmas Day starkly illustrated the dilemma that those of us who support President Obama face all too often. Only the near-satanic dumbness of that documented draft dodging fake warrior Dick Cheney could arrive at the conclusion that the current Administration was responsible for the potential deaths of close to 300 airline passengers on what was almost a fateful Christmas.
On the other hand, we have learned that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, tragically now the most famous Nigerian in America, employed the same basic method as the 9/11 conspirators!! Note that he bought a one way ticket to the United States for cash. Note that he had almost no luggage. Note that various aspects of the U.S. intelligence (the term is broadly used in this case) were aware that Mr. Abdulmutallab might be engaged in terrorist activity. Note that other aspects of the U.S. intelligence were aware that al Qaeda might be planning an attack on the United States towards the end of 2009.
Sound familiar? It should. The noted items are so similar to the fact pattern of the infamous 9/11 attacks that no self-respecting pulp fiction writer would dare to place such a fact pattern before even the most gullible editor. All of the 9/11 terrorists bought one way tickets. All of them paid cash. All had little or no luggage. Aspects of the U.S. intelligence community were aware of, and in some cases monitoring, several of the eventual perpetrators. And, once again, aspects of the U.S. intelligence apparatus were aware of an impending al Qaeda attack.
Is it possible that eight years September 11, 2001 attacks that terrorists can use the exact same methods and not be thwarted or deterred by billions of dollars of technology, thousands upon thousands of personnel and the mantra-like commitment of the United States government to a war against terrorism and terrorist tactics? In point of fact, nothing worked in the Abdulmutallab incident worked. No screening. No intelligence. No surveillance. Nothing worked.
In point of fact a young man from Nigeria, with no military training or espionage expertise was able to board an airliner headed to the United States with a bomb in his underwear. That the bomb did not kill hundreds of innocent men and women was due solely to a stroke of outrageous good fortune. Not even the intrepid actions of a few brave passengers stopped the would-be bomber as they were alerted only by a loud noise that, but for the grace of God, would have been the last sound that they every heard in this life.
Even if bureaucratic inertia and creatively challenged aspects of eight years of the Bush-Cheney administration had been exorcised by President Obama in 11 months, it would naïve and preposterous to suggest that we all would be safe from potential attacks. Terrorism has a very close relationship to infinite creativity and bottomless depravity.
However, it would be reasonable to suggest that employing a realpolitik perspective, the Obama administration would comprehend the need to attend to all aspects of national security, including appointing the head of the Transportation Security Administration as soon as the confetti from the inauguration had been swept away. Instead, it was eight months before a nominee (a seemingly excellent nominee, by the way) was submitted to Congress for confirmation. And for the last three months that nomination has been held up by the inane antics of one single solitary Republican Senator Jim Demint of South Carolina. And it was only after the Christmas fiasco that the administration and the Democratic leadership in Congress have decided to put some muscle behind this stalled nomination.
And all this time the Transportation Security Administration has been a holdover from the Bush-Cheney team. For eleven months the Obama administration has not had its team in charge of one of the most vulnerable aspects of this country’s infrastructure. All this time, all the time knowing that national security is also one of this administration’s perceived area of vulnerability and that innovation, creativity and true intelligence are sorely needed and have been needed for the past eight years.
At this time President Obama needs support and constructive suggestions. Having seen the clouds of disaster dissipate this time, we must be certain that our support for true change, the support that was expressed loudly and clearly on November 4, 2008, results in innovation, creativity and true intelligence and a departure from business as usual.
It is our collective good fortune and the particular good fortune of the administration that the hand of tragedy passed us by. We cannot continue to depend on good fortune to always protect us.